An Ashura procession passes peacefully through Rawalpindi, a mosque starts a Friday sermon, and moments later: people are dead, security personnel are attacked, markets are set on fire, and fellow countrymen are hurling stones at each other. Crazed mobs wander the streets seeking revenge. The district administration is overwhelmed. Police overpowered. Calls for peace by local representatives and religious scholars are not enough. The 111 Brigade is called in, and a curfew is imposed in the city. A fear of nationwide sectarian bloodshed grips the entire country.

Who started it? Was it planned, or an act of spontaneous combustion? Is it a colossal failure of the district administration, intelligence agencies, Police? All legitimate questions which must be answered, but still fail to address the real issue here: The society is polarized, peaceful co-existence appears to be a distant memory which the common man is desperately clinging to while fear, bigotry and lawlessness prevail. When individuals are indoctrinated to believe that they are the keepers of the absolute truth, and those with differing views and beliefs are sworn enemies, then surely, results will be disastrous.

Civil liberties such as freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom to practice one’s religion, are violated with impunity and misplaced pride, and the people silently go on with their lives. They do not understand that one can be right, without insisting on pointing fingers at everyone around and insisting that they are wrong.

There is a regressive ideology at work. It laments progress, modernity, education, basic human rights, and everything else that stands in its path to annihilation. They have relentlessly eroded the social fabric of our society. They have nurtured an extremely sensitive form of religious sentiment amongst the masses, and then exploited it to further their agenda. They want confrontation, they want conflict, they want death and destruction, and from the debris that will be left behind, they wish to build a society on fear. With every passing day, as we stay silent and comply out of cowardice and confusion, they are inching closer to their destination. What’s even more unfortunate is that the agents of this regressive ideology have been, and still are operating without any opposition from the state. In fact, they are blessed with patronage, and even monthly stipends in some cases.

Do not draw each other’s blood for that is what they want. Do not play into their hands. Come together, and reject this outsourced, imported ideology of hate and violence. In allowing the fighting of the wrong fights amongst ourselves, we all fight against justice and any kind of progress.